Mirror, mirror on the wall… why can’t I recycle you after you fall?
Bad news, folks. Besides bringing you bad luck (if you happen to be superstitious), a broken mirror is a tough thing to recycle. The reflective coating on the back of the glass, as well as the glass itself, make it nearly impossible for recyclers to do anything with it.
If you really cannot stand to put a mirror in the trash, look into options for reusing it. There are plenty of ways to put even a broken mirror back to use.
Why are mirrors so hard to recycle?
It has to do with how glass gets made. Mirrors have a reflective coating painted on the back of the glass so you can see your reflection. That coating makes the glass nearly impossible to recycle.
Mirror glass is also a hard thing for recyclers to do anything with. To recycle glass, companies have to crush it into small pieces called cullet. The cullet is put in a furnace and combined with a small amount of virgin materials required to make new glass, such as limestone and sand. The furnace heats up to between 2600 degrees and 2800 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the type of glass. Once the glass has been liquefied, it can be poured into new bottles or used for things like beads, kitchen or bathroom tiles and gift items.
That temperature difference is the biggest reason why various types of glass cannot be recycled together. Imagine trying to melt together crayons and Styrofoam – two things with very different melting points. The Styrofoam would not melt, and your crayon wax would be ruined because it had giant lumps of garbage in it.
The same is true of glass. If you mixed mirror glass with bottle glass, it would render the bottle glass unusable. That explains why it is vitally important to only put certain types of glass in your recycling bin. Almost all curbside recycling providers will tell you to place only bottles and jars in your glass recycling bin. Mirrors, drinking glasses, window glasses, Pyrex dishes, light bulbs and all other types of glass need to stay out.
How to recycle mirrors
Unless you live in a community with really, really good recycling programs, you will not be able to recycle your mirror. Look into ways to reuse it instead.
And if you truly cannot find a way to reuse a broken mirror, please wrap it in newspaper or another heavy paper before placing it in your trash can. That will help protect sanitation workers from getting injured.
How to reuse mirrors that are in good condition
Place a large, decorative mirror in good condition on a site like Craigslist or eBay. Check with a local antique shop or vendor at a flea market to see if they are interested in buying it. Call your favorite secondhand store and ask if they can take mirrors.
Before transporting your mirror, wrap it well in soft materials to prevent it from breaking. Reusable items like towels or blankets work great. You can also use bubble wrap or kraft paper (both of which are recyclable) in a pinch.
How to reuse broken mirrors
Mirrors can be reused in fun craft projects. Pinterest has whole pages dedicated to broken mirror crafts. Check out the various pinboards for ideas on how to transform broken mirrors into picture frames, tabletops, wall hangings, planters, wind chimes and more. The tiny, shiny pieces make gorgeous mosaics and eye-catching decorations.
If you have a large mirror that is just broken around the edges, or one that broke into a couple of large pieces, try making a smaller mirror out of it. Cut out a portion of the mirror, put it in an old picture frame and hang it on the wall. Add a few hooks on the bottom to create a place where you can hang your keys and quickly check your make-up on the way out the door. Or use a decorative gilt frame to create a mirror that will look gorgeous on the wall.
Create a hand mirror by finding a vintage silver or gold piece with broken glass. Install part of the mirror on a piece of furniture to create a makeshift dressing table. Glue the mirror to a tray for a conversation-starting serving piece. You can also paint the mirror with chalkboard paint and get a super-trendy item to hang in your kitchen or office.
To cut a mirror into pieces, you will need a glass cutter and a few other basic tools. This website
has a handy (and hilarious) tutorial on cutting mirrors. Make sure you bring your safety glasses!
Of course, you should also handle a broken mirror with extreme caution. If you broke the mirror yourself, you may have a bit of bad luck coming your way. Do not let it start with cutting yourself during a craft project.
If you cannot reuse a broken mirror yourself, it is possible that a nonprofit that sells craft supplies will want it. Organizations like these are popping up all over the country and have artists who want all kinds of materials. Look for a group similar to Art from Scrap
in Santa Barbara, Reusable Usables Creative Arts Center
in LeClaire, Iowa, or The Repurpose Project
in Gainesville. Call to see if they are interested in broken mirrors before hauling yours all the way to them. Also, inquire to see how they want it packaged.